Can devolution create a Northern Powerhouse?

With the City Devolution Bill firmly on the table, what impact will it have on local authorities and regional construction? The transfer of power and funding from Whitehall comes at a time of massive change within local government. The ambition to deliver economic growth has never been greater, but has been challenged by significant budget cuts which have led to permanent changes in the way councils deliver front line services.

The prospect of decentralisation is likely to be welcome news for local authorities, most of whom are in agreement that the current system is ineffective. Having taken the plunge, Greater Manchester’s budget will grow by £2bn; it will also receive new powers to raise funding and control its own budgets.

Gleeds provides asset management advice for local authorities and believes that whilst devolution has huge potential to prompt significant development, councils need reassurance they’ll be empowered and prepared to deliver. Director, Lee Summersgill, who heads up the consultancy’s local authorities work, believes: “The removal of Whitehall red tape has the potential to unlock major housing and infrastructure projects across the UK, as well as improving the speed with which they move from planning into construction, but it’s likely the Chancellor may have to show his hand a little more before others commit.”

Councils will be expected to jump through certain hoops before receiving increased autonomy – namely electing a Mayor, something that has historically been unpopular amongst councils and local constituents. “Whilst Manchester has been the first to throw its hat into the ring, other core cities remain cautious,” says Summersgill.

Could devolution leave the regions with increased responsibility but insufficient funds? Would an elected mayor end up merely being an edict from Whitehall? Answers to these questions remain to be seen, but if money and powers do start to flow the challenge then becomes one of delivery. Combined authorities will need to deliver on their plans and aspirations in what will become a competitive UK market.

“The construction and property industry is well placed to help local authorities identify and resource the most suitable funding solutions, procurement routes and delivery schedules,” Summersgill reflects.

“Not only will this help simplify and speed up the process for councils, it may also help open doors to private sector development and funding partners, all of which would contribute to marked regional growth.

“As an industry, we need to be stepping forward and using our expertise to make the transition as easy as possible for councils looking to take on increased powers.”

Lee Summersgill, Head of Government & Municipals

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Lee Summersgill

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